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May 27, 2020 9 min read

The name Gatorade is known around the world as one of the most popular sports drinks on the market. Many people, from casual gym-goers to elite athletes, consume Gatorade when working out. In theory, the drink allows you to train harder, for longer, by supplying your body with fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. But just how healthy is this drink? 

Read on to discover all about the history, ingredients, and health impacts of the sports drink Gatorade. With zero-sugar and organic options, the range of Gatorade drinks available is huge. Once you’ve learned about the origins and effects of Gatorade, you can make a more informed decision about what you choose to rehydrate next time you work out. Now, let’s just straight in and learn what exactly Gatorade is, and how this energy-packed drink came into production. 

What is Gatorade?

Gatorade is a sports drink produced by the American manufacturer The Gatorade Company Inc. The Gatorade Thirst Quencher is the original Gatorade drink, available in Lemon Lime and Orange flavor variants. However, over the years, a huge range of flavor variations became available, based around other fruits. Now there are also several other lines of Gatorade available, for example, the Gatorade Frost range which is aimed at the wider consumer, instead of just players of competitive team sports. 

Gatorade was originally created by the University of Florida College of Medicine for the Florida Gators football team. The team had found players were suffering in performance and asked the university to help. The scientists at the University of Florida concluded that the athletes were suffering due to a loss of fluids and electrolytes through sweat. They, therefore, created an early iteration of Gatorade; a sports drink made up of water, sodium (salt), sugar, potassium, phosphate, and lemon juice. 

The Florida Gators began using this drink during practice and games to great success, and Gatorade’s popularity grew. The Florida Sports team won their first Orange Bowl in 1967 and attributed their victory to the new Gatorade drink. Soon after, the drink became the official sports drink of the NFL (the National Football League). What began as a drink created for a single sports team was becoming a popular beverage amongst the general public. When Micheal Jordan named Gatorade’s Citrus Cooler his favorite flavor in the early 1990s, the national popularity of Gatorade was secured. 

What’s in Gatorade?

The original Gatorade Thirst Quencher has almost the same ingredients as back in the 1960s. If you want to properly evaluate if Gatorade is good for you, and decide whether to choose it as your beverage when working out, then take a hard look at the ingredients and nutritional components of this sports drink. You need to know about the calories, sugar, and other important facts about Gatorade before using it to fuel your workouts.

If you look at the nutritional information on the side of a regular bottle of Gatorade, you’d find out the following information. Each serving contains 140 calories and 36 grams of carbohydrates. Of that 36, 34 grams come from sugar, which is very high and not much less than sugary soda like Coca Cola. Gatorade also contains 270mg of Sodium and 80mg of potassium, elements added to help you replace electrolytes lost through sweat. We’ll go into more detail about the benefits of these ingredients later on. 

The expansive range of Gatorade drinks all have a similar ingredients list, with differences mainly in color, flavors, and sugar content. For example, the G2 and Zero Gatorade drinks have half the regular quantity of sugar and zero sugar respectively, but other than that most Gatorade drinks share the same basic mixture of ingredients. 

The base of the drink, like most, is water, an important element of Gatorade to help the drinker rehydrate. Athletes and other active individuals lose a lot of fluid when working out through sweat, so replacing this lost water is one of the main jobs of a sports drink. The secondary ingredient in Gatorade is sugar, which as a simple carbohydrate can be quickly and efficiently used for fuel. You’ll also find dextrose in your Gatorade drinks, which is another form of sugar to give you energy. 

To flavor Gatorade and make it more appealing to thirsty gym-goers, citric acid is added to the drink. The sodium salt of citric acid, sodium citrate, is also added as a flavor enhancer. The electrolyte replenishing properties of Gatorade come from two ingredients; salt, and monopotassium phosphate. The sodium and potassium can help improve your athletic performance when you’ve lost too many electrolytes through sweat. 

These are all the primary active ingredients in a bottle of Gatorade, however, there are still a few more ingredients on the label. Stabilizing agents in the form of modified food starch and glycerol ester of rosin give Gatorade a longer shelf life, whilst natural flavor, food dyes, and caramel color food coloring can also be added. If you’re looking to consume Gatorade without any added chemicals, you could try the G Organic range with only 7 ingredients. 

A girl drinking Gatorade.

Sodium and Electrolytes in Gatorade

When your body exerts a lot of energy, for example when competing in team sports or completing a killer workout at the gym, you can lose a lot of fluid and electrolytes through sweat. There are several different types of electrolytes you could lose through perspiration, but the main focus for athletes is sodium. Some people choose to replace these lost minerals by drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade, but how effective is this process? 

The sodium salt is added to Gatorade and many other sports beverages to help with electrolyte replacement. This is partly to prevent hyponatremia, which is a condition where the sodium levels in your blood can drop dangerously low. Hyponatremia is only likely to happen in extreme conditions, you would have to exercise incredibly hard and sweat profusely for this to be a danger. The main risk of developing hyponatremia is fluid overload, which is possible when drinking excessive amounts of water when exercising. This is why some athletes choose to consume sports drinks like Gatorade, to replace lost fluids and salts without risking a lack of sodium. 

Clearly Gatorade is beneficial in preventing your sodium levels from dropping, but just how likely is this situation? Most Gatorade drinkers won’t come near the intensity of exercise which would require this level of electrolyte replacement, which could mean the drink doesn’t benefit them. In fact, some of the other ingredients in Gatorade, namely sugar, can actually have a negative effect. Some athletes might want to try using Gatorade to alleviate cramping, as some research has linked muscle pains to sodium losses. However, most cramping is from other causes like neuromuscular fatigue, so Gatorade probably wouldn’t help. 

The electrolyte replacement due to sodium and potassium in Gatorade is highly effective, but that doesn’t make it necessary for most drinkers of the beverage. When it comes to everyday hydration, the sodium content of Gatorade could actually be detrimental. If you aren’t losing a lot of electrolytes through sweat, the additional salt can actually cause issues with high blood pressure. If you’re doing extended intense exercises, particularly at high temperatures, then Gatorade could improve your performance. Otherwise, this electrolyte replacement drink is largely unnecessary. 

Is Gatorade Good For You? 

We’ve covered the pros and cons of electrolyte replacement and sodium content in Gatorade, but what about all the other ingredients? There are several other key substances that make up a bottle of Gatorade, not all of which are necessarily good for you. People who work out are generally health-conscious, so if you want to take care of your body, carefully consider the ingredients in sports drinks like Gatorade. 

One of the largest criticisms of Gatorade as a sports beverage is the sugar content, which amounts to a huge 34 grams in a standard bottle. That’s almost the same quantity of sugar that’s in a regular can of soda, which might make you rethink your stance on Gatorade as a healthy workout drink. If you’re just drinking Gatorade casually, rather than during intense exercise, then this sugar is unnecessary and potentially unhealthy. On the other hand, sugar and carbohydrates can be very beneficial during your workout.

When exercising, your body burns a selection of different fuels for energy. This includes carbohydrates such as sugar, as well as stored bodily fat. When completing physical exercise such as a long-distance run, you burn fat and carbs to power your muscles and keep your body moving. The reason some athletes consume additional carbs (usually in the form of sugar) during exercise is that the body’s store of carbohydrates is quickly depleted.

If you want to exercise harder, for longer, then consuming sugar can stop you from hitting a wall but if you really want to increase your focus,   add some workout supplements to your diet. This simple carbohydrate quickly breaks down in the body and provides a quick burst of energy which could allow you to continue training. Topping up your energy reserves with a high-sugar sports drink can increase your endurance during intense physical activity, and improve your overall performance. The issue with sugary sports drinks such as Gatorade is that most consumers aren’t hitting this level of activity, so the additional carbohydrates and calories are probably doing more harm than good. 

High levels of dietary sugar have been linked with serious health issues including diabetes, weight gain, and dental problems, so for health-conscious individuals, drinks like Gatorade could be better avoided. Most gym sessions and general exercise don’t necessitate the use of high-calorie drinks such as Gatorade, so in most cases, this popular sports drink wouldn’t be considered “good for you”. 

What about Gatorade without Sugar?

As you can see, the most commonly discussed downside to drinking Gatorade is the high sugar content, but we know there are sugar-free options available. So are sports drinks without a high level of carbohydrates a healthy option? With only 10 calories per serving, Gatorade Zero doesn’t have the same excess of unnecessary added sugar than other lines of the drink reflect. In that case, we need to investigate the artificial sweetener used in its place. 

Gatorade Zero and G2 use sucralose (known as Splenda) and acesulfame potassium instead of natural sweetener. There have been plenty of scientific studies into the effects of artificial sweeteners and other chemical additives on the body, but there’s no single solid conclusion. Some research states that artificial sweeteners are perfectly safe for consumption in moderate amounts, but on the other hand, certain studies have associated their use with weight gain and other health problems. 

Aside from the potential health concerns regarding artificial additives, low- and no-sugar Gatorade options can provide a great way to replenish your electrolytes while exercising without too much sugar intake. If you want to boost your electrolytes during intense workouts, without consuming a large amount of added sugar, a low-carb Gatorade could be an ideal energy drink. 

A bottle of yellow Gatorade.

How to Choose a Drink to Rehydrate During Exercise

The market for sports beverages and energy drinks is huge, with every name and brand offering a different product to help you gain that competitive edge. The best-known options include Gatorade from Pepsico and Powerade from Coca Cola, but there are far more options out there. With so many different drinks to choose from, how do you know which option is the best to fuel your workout? 

If you’re an endurance athlete completing long periods of strenuous activity, then a full-sugar energy drink such as Gatorade could be ideal. This high-carb option should be reserved for those who truly need the replenishment, as the average person could not burn off the additional sugar. Top sportsmen who burn huge amounts of energy as a part of their normal routine will be able to consume a high-sugar drink like Gatorade and efficiently use the energy for exercise. Unfortunately, the majority of Gatorade drinkers aren’t at this level of physical prowess, so the excess sugar is more likely to cause problems. 

Casual exercisers, particularly teens and kids, don’t need the additional sugar and sodium that comes in energy drinks. Most people at the gym will be best-served drinking water while working out, as they’re unlikely to sweat to that degree that electrolyte replacement is necessary. While a low-sugar sports drink would be a better choice than full-carb, there are still several compelling points in favor of water for most people. 

As artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, and one of the most popular reasons for exercise is weight loss, many consumers will also want to avoid Gatorade without sugar. It’s also worth noting that some people have allergies and sensitivities to certain artificial ingredients, commonly found in sports and energy drinks. Keep these facts in mind when choosing a refreshment for your next workout. 

Is it Good to Drink Gatorade? 

Gatorade is known and loved by sports fans and athletes across the globe and to this day it’s the official drink of the National Football League.

However, not everyone truly needs or gets full benefits from this high-energy electrolyte replacement drink. Only elite athletes performing at the highest levels can utilize the sugar energy that Gatorade provides. There must be prolonged periods of strenuous exercise in order to need the electrolyte replenishment as well.

This means that for those top performers, Gatorade is ideal to provide fuel and supplement sodium and potassium lost through sweat. Unfortunately, most casual drinkers of Gatorade won’t benefit from the added sugar and salt in their system, and these excesses can actually cause health problems themselves. Potentially dangerous health issues caused by these ingredients can cause blood pressure problems, diabetes, weight gain, and more. That’s why we believe sugary sports drinks like Gatorade are best avoided by the general population. 

Low-sugar Gatorade is always an option, which will rehydrate and replenish electrolytes without flooding your system with unnecessary sugars. However, we recommend everyone research the chemical additives common in low- or no-sugar energy drinks before making a decision, as there are more factors to consider regarding health and performance. If you want to enjoy Gatorade but don’t exercise at the level of pro athletes, then there’s no reason you can’t enjoy one as a treat. Just remember that the sugar content of a regular Gatorade is almost as much as a can of soda, so don’t mistake it for a healthier choice.